THE STORY BEHIND MY FIG COOKIES
In the 1980s, I lived in a 1903 Victorian house in Brooklyn.
One of my next door neighbors was Joe, a man in his seventies, who was born in Sicily.
He was a terrific gardener, cook and baker. Despite the fact that I wasn’t Italian Joe was determined to teach me how to cook like a proper Sicilian wife.
He shared his recipes, demonstrated techniques and sometimes peered from his living room window into my kitchen when I was cooking to make sure I did it right.
Imagine my surprise the first time my phone rang and Joe’s voice on the other end said, “needs more salt.”
Every fall, Joe would bring me a small plate of his fabulous Cuchidati. Fresh from the oven, they smelled as good as they tasted and disappeared in a flash.
One October when I was having a cup of tea with Joe, I asked if he had any cuchidati. He answered, “No, but it’s time you learned to make them.”
Minutes later I was up to my elbows in flour while Joe chopped figs and nuts with an oak-handled knife. He taught me to knead the dough, the way his mother had taught him to do it.
More than 20 years have passed since the day I learned to make fig cookies. Nowadays, I cheat and use a food processor.
(Sicilian Fig Cookies)
(Sicilian Fig Cookies)
I always make 3 orders of filling and 2 orders of dough. This makes about 125 cookies. It sounds like a lot but once you try them, you’ll realize it’s rarely enough. The cookies keep well but are a bit fragile for shipping.
1/2 cup dried black figs, stems removed
1/2 cup dried currents
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cocoa
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
2 tablspoons fresh orange zest
Splash of sweet sherry or port
1/4 cup honey
Put all ingredients, except the honey in the bowl of a food processor and chop finely. Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in honey. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
A few drops of whole milk
Put flour, baking powder and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and mix well. Add butter and process, then add egg and a few drops of milk. Dough should be very firm (like a pie crust), but if it’s downright stiff, add a few more drops of milk. Divide dough in three pieces, and pat each one into a rectangle. Wrap each piece in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll one rectangle out slightly, then put one third of the filling along one long edge of rectangle. Fold dough to cover filling. If you have extra dough, cut it off and re-roll. Press lightly to seal seam, then place seam side down on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat for other 2 rectangles.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until slightly browned, then cool on a rack or wooden cutting board. Use a serrated bread knife to cut each roll into slices. Wash the knife frequently to prevent sticking.
Try one and say thanks to Joe.